Cadets allege sexual abuse

January 31, 1997

FORCED by a multi-million dollar legal battle to open its doors to women, The Citadel, South Carolina's elite military academy, is now mired in charges of sexual harassment. After two of its first four women cadets dropped out, the FBI and local police launched a joint investigation into claims of "hazing" and abuse.

Months before one of the women, Jeannie Mentavlos, withdrew from the college, officials had heard from her parents of her alleged treatment. But they reduced the punishment of one male cadet involved to a "minor violation" on a plea from his classmates. Ms Mentavlos and her classmate Kim Messer alleged that they were shoved, kicked, subjected to sexual advances and made to sing obscene songs by male cadets, who also twice doused them with nail polish remover and set them on fire.

As early as the autumn term, according to her father, the family expressed "grave concerns" about Ms Mentavlos's treatment, including stories of a doctored pornographic photograph of her circulating on campus.

They were "repeatedly" told the incidents were being taken care of. "Obviously they were not," he said.

Ms Messer's father told a local newspaper that a male cadet had used a rifle butt to push the two women against a wall and struck each of them on the head, though neither were injured. Two male cadets were suspended and nine others face disciplinary charges.

The Citadel, backed by South Carolina's state government, took its fight to keep its men-only status to the Supreme Court and lost. But the court's order has not changed a culture that has tacitly encouraged "hazing" and ritual humiliation.

Major General Richard Poole, The Citadel's interim president, claims the women were singled out not for their sex but as first-years, who have historically been on the receiving end from upper years. He admitted his institution had made mistakes, but he told the Washington Post that at a meeting of 1,700 cadets he "impressed on them that the future of The Citadel is co-educational".

The women's lawyers, however, cite a pattern of negligence at The Citadel, which has spent no extra money to accommodate the women recruits. Under Freedom of Information Act laws they have asked to see documents allegedly related to the seizure of a hidden tape recorder that Ms Mentavlos carried, and evidence of alleged seizures of pornographic pictures.

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